Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

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Sweden II

Home sweet home

July 19th, Saturday - I'm continuing, to this day, to learn exciting new things about exotic tropical diseases, but one thing is that some of them are quite cyclical in effect. In unrelated news I was feeling pretty decent when I woke up the morning of the 19th, in my bunk deep in the Swedish sailing ship Götheborg.

   [And a quick technical aside for those of you who only tune in for LJI entries, there was another entry between my last and this, wherein I narrowly escaped from Guinea, traversed Europe, and people tried to kill me repeatedly with poisson]

   The morning of the 19th I slept in till around 8:00, and explored the neighborhood in search of a quaint cafe. The Ericsberg neighborhood on the north side of the Göta river was once a major shipbuilding site, but has since been gentrified and is now "where the yuppies live," according to a local. It's quiet and clean and characterized by nice looking apartment buildings, and joggers along the waterfront in mornings. An enormous red crane with "ERICSBERG" emblazoned on it still looms over the entire neighborhood as a memento to its shipbuilding past. The solid piers still jut out into the river but now have swanky restaurants on the ends.
   I found a cafe along the riverbank with a view of my ship and ordered coffee and a delicious pastry from the very attractive blonde Swedish girl working there, her hair in casual pigtails, and sat and relished this first cup of decent coffee I'd had in a month -- in Africa all they have is nescafe (unless you're in Ethiopia), and I hadn't had a chance to enjoy a real cup of coffee since then.

   Around 10:00 I caught up with Jonathon,the somewhat timid German fellow with whom I'd made plans to go visit the islands. He was halfway through two weeks volunteering on the Götheborg. We'd been told we could get all-day public transit passes at an easy-to-find nearby convenience store that we utterly failed to find. We finally wandered into a little grocery shop, which I don't think I'd even have recognized as a shop from the outside if someone hadn't told us to go in there, and stood in a verrrry slow line tended by a couple well in their 80s who must surely have been the owners. It was cute that they were still running their shop.. but probably not the most efficient. "Older people here don't necessarily speak English" I whispered to Jonathon with concern. "That's okay, I've heard they're more likely to speak German ;)" he whispered back.
   Turns out they spoke English. We asked for two all-day transit passes and the man slowly shuffled around and eventually brought back one. We reiterated we wanted two and he slowly repeated his whole process.

   That finally sorted out, we went to the ferry stop, just a hundred yards away or so, and excitedly boarded the ferry that came moments later. It was only as the ferry started going the wrong direction, up the river, that I realized "uh, we should have looked at the destination of this ferry." A friend had given us directions involving taking the ferry directly across the river, but instead we ended up riding it on its zig-zag route all the way back to the town center, and there we boarded a crowded trolley and headed back toward the mouth of the river, which seemed to take an hour. Once there, we realized we had no idea which island we actually wanted to go to, but we boarded a ferry that looked like it would go to all of them in turn, so we'd have options.
   Ten minutes later we still hadn't decided where the best place to stand on the ferry was, when it came to the first island, Asperö, Jonathon asked me if we should get off here. I had to go merely on a gut feeling, and a lot of it was simply not getting off at the very first stop, but I said no. He looked at me quizically and asked why not and I was hard pressed to give an explanation, but all I saw was half a dozen people getting off with bicycles, and a paved asphalt path leading off behind a hillock on the island. It looked a little like maybe you had to ride your bike to get anywhere fun on this island.
   The stop was only for a moment and we were on our way again. Jonathon and I stayed in the bow of the ferry for this portion. It was a fine sunny day and there were numerous boats of all types out on the water. The Göta river on which Göteborg sits opens out into the Kattegat, the narrow island-filled sea between the Baltic and the North Sea, Denmark and Sweden. Soon we were coming up on the second island, Köpstadsö, where we saw a cute little dock with rows and rows of wheelbarrows, a little shed, and a big box marked "GODS". A narrow path wound up over the nearest hillock. Numerous pedestrians were getting off here. This all looked promising, so we disembarked as well.
   The mystery of the numerous wheelbarrows soon resolved itself: there's no cars on the island -- wheelbarrows is how people get their groceries or other loads around -- the fleet of wheelbarrows at the dock was the equivalent of a parking lot!

Looks like there should be hobbits

   Köpstadsö turned out to have a charming little townlet of cute little houses with wheelbarrows in the driveway, with sidewalk sized paths winding between them. There was also a delightful little marina that doubled as a swimming hole (and unlike many marinas I've seen, the water looked crystal clear and inviting). Jonathon and I left the townlet and followed a footpath through the beautiful forest across the middle of the island to a beach on the far side (maybe a half mile distant?), where there were already a few families enjoying the good weather (and in typical Swedish fashion, several naked young children). A rowboat was making its leisurely way past, looking like a giant waterbug. Beyond that there were plenty of motorboats and sailboats, I took note that there seemed to be an unusually large number of ketches, a sailing rig I have a lingering fondness for, having lived and worked for seven months on the 103 foot topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain. (Much later, yesterday (August 3rd) I was at the urgent care and they had an eye chart with symbols and simple pictures instead of letters, and the top one was a sailboat, which I squinted at and declared "oh no, I can't tell what the first line is, is it a cutter or a sloop??")

a great day to be out on the water!

   Anyway, here I found Jonathon and I had divergent interests. I wanted to keep exploring the islands, he (presently a musical therapy major in university) wanted to sit for a few hours in thought, maybe write some poetry or something. So we agreed to reconvene in two hours and I went off to explore the quaint forest paths.
   By now I was getting a bit peckish but alas this island was too quaint and unspoilt to have a cafe on it. I looked for miner's lettuce in the forest but that might not be a thing here (looking at wikipedia right now I guess its in fact a California thing. It's an edible plant that's common in our forests). There were many blackberry brambles that I'm sure provide quite a bounty when in season.

   Finally Jonathon and I met up and proceeded to the ferry stop to go to the next and last island. As it seemed the most populous (there were direct ferries between it and the mainland), we were optimistic we could find food there.

Styrsö turned out to have a larger town on it, with larger buildings and a school and some bed-and-breakfasts. There was a cafe/bar right next to the ferry stop, which I think may have been the only one on the island. Service was terrible, no one greeted us or told us what to do, or how to pay, and when we finally inquired and were told to pay at the bar, the bartender ignored us for 15 minutes while he cleaned some glasses before acknowledging us. I guess when you're the only place on the island you can get away with such behavior. I ordered a burger with "amerikanska dressing," something I'd missed in the 16 years since I'd last been in Sweden, since we don't have it in America.
   Looking at a map, the island appeared to be half town and half undeveloped, and down at the far end of the undeveloped half there was a "kyrka ruin" (church ruin, kyrka is naturally pronounced "sheerka") that sounded like a worthy destination. We headed down there by the coast road -- this island also didn't have cars but there were "flatbed motorbikes" with three wheels called flakmopeds or lastmoppes about. Unlike most conveyances, on which it's taken for granted that the load follows behind, the flatbed portion of the vehicle is in front. Giving the impression of some sort of giant motorized spatula.
   Presently our route left the road and became a nice footpath through the forest. By the time we arrived at the site of the kyrka ruin we had left the town and development far behind and were immersed in a quiet contemplative setting of lapping water, rolling green hillocks, forest, islands, and the occasional bleeting of sheep. There wasn't much to see of the ruin itself but a vague rectangular outline in the ground. Jonathon of course wanted to sit here for a bit and write some more. The sun was near setting (it was around 8:30), and we still had to get back home, so I gave him about twenty minutes and did some exploring on my own. Climbed the local hillock and took this picture:

uhoh some vikings are coming ashore

   Then we hurried along a path through the middle of the island back towards the ferry dock. The evening sun streamed sideways through the trees and it was quite beautiful. I knew we were running late for the nine something ferry but was also keen not to let neurosis over that ruin my enjoyment of this beautiful place, and I knew there was ferry service until fairly late. We definitely missed that ferry but there was another one around 10:00 so I sat at the bar with bad service and ordered a beer, while Jonathon went off to watch the sunset from somewhere quiet and contemplative.

Pretty good beer
(timestamp: 9:27pm. I love long Swedish evenings!)

   Gave myself half an hour to pay the tab and was glad I did as it took most of that time. Boarded the ten something ferry and rode in the open air top deck as it was a perfect evening. The sun had finally set and the sky glowed a sherbet orange. There were still a few sailboats blithely enjoying the conditions, and on the horizon, silhuetted against the orange glow, giant windmills slowly turned, a reminded that This Is Sweden, a country that loves sustainable energy (and recycles 102% of its trash!) -- this is the more-than-first world.

Would we feel the same way about wind power if windmills weren't pretty?

July 20th, Sunday - Met up with an old friend, Kenth, from back when I was in Sweden when I was 16. It's unfortunate I wasn't able to see more old friends, but to get to the place where I was before from Götaborg one would have to row one's longship up the Göta river and across to the far side of Lake Vanern (the largest lake in Europe if you don't count the two by St Petersberg in Russia), to Kristinehamn (Port Christine).
   We met up downtown and went to an indian buffet, which was delicious. I baffled them by trying to pay in cash ("no one uses cash here any more" my friend advised me as I took the Swedish notes out of my wallet). The cashier had to dig around for a key to the cash box of the register and dust veritably came out as he looked for change. Welcome to the future.
   Downtown Göteborg has that elegant look of many old European towns. Big clean beautiful buildings. One canal, since all the world went through a stage of being in love with canals for awhile there. I'm told Göteborg has the smallest population for a city of its size, or something like that, which sounds like a contradictory statement but the fact is it has a lot of parks, so that the city covers a large area without actually having an enormous population (just over 500,000). As mentioned in the last entry, it's often anglicized as Gothenburg, but I regard this as an overanglicization, and the etymology is wrong anyway. English words with gothen or gotham derive from got-ham, goat village (yeah gotham city should have a goat man not a bat man), where Göta comes from the "Geats," the people of Beowulf.

view across the canal
Question: When I write alt-text does anyone read it?

   Also checked out the beautiful Trädgårdsföreningen Gardens (say that three times fast. Okay try saying it once), a sort of botanical garden just downtown by the canal. Tried to take pictures of the bumblebees on the flowers there but got nothing worth posting. Also there was a greenhouse with giant lilypads.

   Returning to the boat I'd found a number of people had arrived over the weekend for the following work week on the boat.

"Do you speak Swedish?" one girl asked me.
"Nej, jag prata inte svenska" (no I don't speak Swedish) says I, with suspiciously good pronunciation.
"Wait do you really speak Swedish?"
"Nej, jag förstår ingenting!" (No I don't understand a thing) I say with a grin.
"No really do you speak Swedish??"
"No, not really"
And then the next day I say something in Swedish (to someone else)
"What? Did you learn that already?"
"Jag har varit här tre dagar, jag har lärt mig svenska nu!" (I've been here three days, I've learned Swedish now!) ... my Swedish vocubulary isn't extremely extensive but by downplaying how much I did know there were several opportunities to catch people by surprise with amusing results.

death? pestilence?
Also in town I saw this really cool relief.

I loved those streamers, they provided a great excuse to run up the mast to go fix them. You can hardly see me here but I'm way up there fixing itJuly 21st, Monday - Was engaged in tarring the rigging, which was nice because I still wasn't feeling 100% and it was work I was familiar with. The rigging, being hand-made rope from hemp, needs to be coated in tar to keep from decomposing, and this tar needs to be reapplied every few months. The ships I've worked on in the States cheat a little and mix lacquer thinner with the tar to make it easy to apply, but since the Götheborg is super authentic they don't do that so the tar has to be applied while boiling hot. As such a bucket of it was kept boiling on the dock and we'd go up the rigging with a small tin of it (I was working at the main-top, the large platform by the mainmast (see picture at top of entry or to the right)), and apply away with a paintbrush until we either ran out of tar or it became cold, and then scurry back down for more. There's a phrase which I think has some currency even in non-nautical circles -- "the devil to pay but not pitch hot" -- this refers to hanging over the side of the boat trying to apply tar to the "devil seam" at the water line. It also gives rise to the phrase "between the devil and the deep blue sea."

   That night the whole crew</a> (note, we're just a maintenance crew of about 12. The ship sails with a crew of 80) went out for drinks at a nearby bar. The weather being perfect, as usual, we sat outside.

July 22nd, Tuesday - Tuesday found us over the side, caulking planks. To do this one hammers flax into the seam and then pushes in a mixture of linseed oil and chalk over it. This substance would probably be called puddy in English, in Swedish it is "skit" -- "shit." I quickly decided I hate caulking, because for some reason more so than anyone else the shit just completely stuck to my hands.
   After the regular workday was over we lowered one of the longboats from the deck into the water. To do this we used the crane aboard, which was operated via a line to the capstan -- this giant knob into which spokes ("man-spikes") are inserted and sailors push it around to wind in a rope around it. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of this interesting process, as I was busy on the capstan. That evening we all watched the movie that had been made about this Götheborg's first trip to China and back. I think its been there twice more since then.

July 23rd, Wednesday - It was "too hot" to work outside (!!) so we found things to do indoors. I was engaged with several other people scraping paint off a wooden sculpture of a fish that goes on the side of the ship somewhere. And yes, they make their own paint too, out of linseed oil (what can't you make out of that?) and something else. But more importantly, this evening we had planned a big expedition to the island fortress at the mouth of the Göta river, about 2.5 miles away, where we would have a picnic bbq and then return. To this end we had lowered the longboat the day before, and secured permission to borrow a small modern sailboat, the draken, owned by a non-present crewmember. There had been some steak in the freezer making people salivate all summer and it was finally decided that no one knew who put it there but we could probably eat it, and more food provisions were bought.
   As soon as the workday was ended we rigged up the masts in the longboat and got it all squared away. We sailed away down the river without incident, and were soon passed by the Draken, which had left after us.
   Unfortunately we were refused permission to land on the fortress island. They said they'd had five breakins in the last three days -- who the heck takes the time to go to an isolated island with only a historical site on it and break in... more than once a night?? Bizarre!
   There was another island just behind the fortress island though, so we proceeded there. From the longboat we were able to unload onto the island at a rock, but the Draken with its larger keel could not get so close. There were initial attempts to use the longboat as a dock. While we were doing this one of the city-sized ferries to Denmark came through and caused such a displacement of water that a low wall under water between the two islands became a veritable cataract:

don't try to sail across that with a keel

   Docking proved unfeasible so Draken was obliged to sail around the island. Ultimately the crew of the Draken was obliged to swim to shore, and rejoined us dripping, in their skivvies. While this was going on I explored the island, which was mostly overgrown and appeared to be seldom visited. It would have been very beautiful except that there was a large commercial container port not 500 yards away to one side. On the north side I found the foundations of some buildings and two weathered gravestones, one of which had the year 1754 (MDCCLXXIV) carved in it.
   Attempts to start a fire with a fire-bow also proved unsuccessful, but fortunately we had modern tools too and soon were grilling up some delicious steak, corn on the cob, and zuccini slices. :d

load-out, timestamp 9:19pm

   On our departure I joined the Draken so I could get pictures of the longboat. At some point someone had contrived to get it close enough to a rock so that we could go aboard without swimming. Unfortunately though, especially once the four of us that would be riding it were aboard, the keel appeared to be embedded into the mud on the bottom. Our fearless leader Ellie stripped down (Swedes have little compunction about this compared to Americans) and jumped in to push us off and we were on our way.
   We had just rounded the fortress island and sighted the longboat when the wind completely died. After awhile with not a puff we finally had to get on the radio and ask "uh, longboat, can you tow us?" since the draken only had two small woefully deficient paddles aboard while the longboat had ten manned oars. The sound of laughter could clearly be heard across the river in response to this request, but the longboat complied and began making its way toward us. Long story short the wind never did blow another puff and though we tried to help out with our paddles, we were mostly towed for the following four hours (a distance which had taken maybe thirty minutes by sailing). With the rhythmic splash in the gathering night it was easy to imagine the countless viking longships that no doubt have rowed up and down this very river in the past.

Just ignore the commercial container port...

   It was after 1am when we finally made it back to the dock. We were granted late wakeup at 10am the next morning, which still felt like it came on quick.

July 24th, Thursday - So far this week we'd actually dispensed with "the fish list" and ordered Italian for lunch every day, but I started rustling to rather than have a whole week of one thing and a whole week of another we should at least alternate daily between the two, so we returned to the fish list. Those of you who know my longstanding loathred of fish may be shocked by this but I actually don't mind things like fish and chips, and I had recently walked passed the fish place and noted that their fish and chips smelled delicious.
   The first half of the workday I was still scraping the fish sculpture, but the latter half I got recruited to a special project. It had been so sunny and hot lately ... the figurehead (a lion) clearly needed sunglasses!!
   Ellie went and measured the figurehead's face, and we cut pieces of wood to the right lengths, painted them with linseed oil (I think just out of habit?), and affixed lenses of aluminum foil.

   This work spilled over after the workday but with a project like this its hard to tell if you're really working or not, and being volunteers anyway, its all very grey.

Jonas?, Ellie and Hakan in the workshop


One cool cat!

Voila! ...a terrible beauty has been born!!!

   That night a few of us went out for drinks one last time. The next morning at 04:50 I was to catch a bus to the airport to embark on a voyage that through two plane rides and three trainrides would bring me to the small town of Enval in the middle of France. What could possibly go wrong? (spoiler: things go wrong)

So much majesty!!

Tags: gothenburg, sailing, sweden, travel, travelogues

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  • Bourne Ultimatum

    Yesterday & I saw the Bourne Ultimatum. Basically, I liked the movie... It was certainly action packed thats for sure! The very definition of…

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    They're making a "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movie. And the digitally animated (but they're more real looking than animation - "digi-animatronic"…

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